Why A Referendum? Ask City Council

Throughout 2015 Lakewood officials encouraged us to have faith in their handling of Lakewood Hospital. They did so in general terms, often, insisting e.g. on their “due diligence” before finally endorsing a proposal to board up the city’s hospital. But they also made some very specific promises about their obligations as public servants.

In a May 22 letter to MetroHealth, Councilman Ryan Nowlin wrote that “We are… evaluating the nonbinding proposal advanced by the Lakewood Hospital Association and the Cleveland Clinic, and we must do so with respect to any other proposals as well.”(1) Council, wrote Nowlin, was “perfectly free to consider any proposals regarding the future of healthcare in Lakewood, and indeed we are obligated to do so as community stewards if such a proposal is presented.” [Emphases added]

Around the same time, Mayor Summers wrote that “I am duty-bound as mayor to explore every option available” to keep our community-owned hospital operating.(2)

Based on these statements (and a hospital still open after months of warnings), Lakewood went into an election assured that if any possibility existed to keep the city’s hospital, then incumbent leaders would embrace it.

They didn’t. The overtures of Surgical Development Partners—including an initial offer for part of the hospital’s holdings nearly $1 million higher than the final offer from Cleveland Clinic—were brushed aside with no pretense of the duties or obligations alleged earlier in the year. After being re-elected on a platform of openminded dedication, officials quickly rubber-stamped a product of closed, noncompetitive negotiations. It was classic bait-and-switch.

City council’s 7-0 vote was not responsible, consensus decision-making but a reckless bluff. Council members approved a controversial agreement for which they did not have, or even bother to seek, public buy-in. Yet the provision for a citizen-initiated referendum was on the books and remains on the books. Council’s choice to pretend that they had authority to act without popular approval does not oblige us to agree with them; I could sign my brother’s name on a contract, but he would not be stuck with it unless he chose to be. We aren’t stuck with council’s agreement unless we choose to be.

Insisting on a better course through a referendum will be an appropriate response, and an effective one. The complete disappearance of SB5 since its defeat in 2011 demonstrates that even when they don’t like them, politicians respect referendum results.

Council and Mayor Summers have made unambiguous pledges to explore alternatives, and they should keep them. For one reason or another, however, they obviously feel subject to conflicting priorities on Lakewood Hospital. As voters we have the right and the responsibility to tell them which priority to place first: Don’t feel obliged to accept limits that Cleveland Clinic wants to place on our options. Do pursue all options, openly and honestly.

1) Nowlin, Ryan. Letter to Kathy Bellflower, Executive Assistant to the President of The MetroHealth System. 22 May 2015. tinyurl.com/jhpd3k4

2) Summers, Michael P. Letter to Akram Boutros, President and Chief Executive Officer of The MetroHealth System. 18 May 2015. tinyurl.com/jec3ft9

Matt Kuhns

Matt Kuhns lives in Lakewood and operates an independent design practice, Modern Alchemy LLC.

Read More on Lakewood Health Care
Volume 12, Issue 2, Posted 5:45 PM, 01.19.2016